The Home Secretary Theresa May in considering letting police forces in England and Wales use water cannons against protestors.
In January, Boris Johnson wrote to May in his capacity as the Mayor of London saying that he was “broadly convinced of the value of having water cannon available” in the capital.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) thinks “ongoing and potential future austerity measures” is an argument for arming police with water cannons.
Though they have been used with impunity in Northern Ireland since 1969, water cannons have not been seen elsewhere.
Two prototypes were developed during the riots across Britain in the early 1980s, but were never used.
During the riots of the summer of 2011, Cameron announced contingency plans to make water cannons available within 24 hours but they were not judged to be necessary and would not have arrived in time.
The inequalities and convulsions of capitalist society regularly generate social and political unrest, and it is only to be expected that the police and government will planning ahead.
Chief Constable David Shaw, author of the Acpo report, told the Guardian that the 2011 riots were a catalyst for new work on public order policing, though he added: “... it’s not a direct response to 2011, or anything we’ve got now. These things can last 30 years. And things happen over three decades.”
Met police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said he wanted water cannons to prevent “more brutal alternatives”. The truth is, however, that water cannons are themselves brutal.
In the UK they are designated “less lethal” in recognition of the fact that they can kill. A 2013 report by the British government's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory found “good evidence … to indicate that serious injuries have been sustained by people subjected to the force of water cannon”.
A 69-year-old man was blinded in one eye and lost most of the sight in his other eye when hit in the face in Stuttgart in 2010.
Most of the dangers come from injuries from falls. Loss of hearing and damage to long-term balance have been reported after victims suffered direct hits to the ears.
Much of the impact will be on the atmosphere of protests. Belgian police inspector Koen Vandewalle, told the Guardian that: “There’s a psychological effect — the sense that now it’s getting more serious.”
Socialists should oppose any measure which strengthens the ability of the state to brutalise and inflict injury. As the class struggle intensifies, the likelihood of clashes with the state increases.